The War on Drugs Ravages Central America. Meet The Volunteer Paramedics Who Clean Up the Mess

"A Ride-Along With Guatemala's Volunteer Ambulance Drivers on the Front Lines of America's Drug War," produced by Zach Weissmueller. Original release date was June 26, 2014. The original writeup is below.

Guatemala is a major drug corridor between South America and Mexico. Narco gangs thrive in rural areas and along the southeastern border, while street gangs who profit from extortion, kidnapping, and bribery dominate the urban centers. As a result, the country's capital, Guatemala City, has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

This is the environment in which Guatemala's bomberos voluntarios—a phrase that roughly translates to "volunteer firefighters" but really encompasses a group of first responders who act as firefighters, ambulance drivers, and paramedics—operate every day.

When Reason TV visited the headquarters of Guatemala City's official, government-sanctioned and -funded first responders—the bomberos municipales—officals downplayed the city's drug and violence problems and insisted that Guatemala is a safe place to live and visit. But the voluntarios, who receive some money from the government but seemingly maintain enough independence to avoid the same level of political pressure, had a different story to tell.

"The municipal bomberos receive funding from the government and the municipality," says Herber Diaz, one of the few paid, full-time paramedics on the force. "They have more equipment, and more people. But the trust the people have in us is there because we do everything. They're selective in their job." 

Watch the above video for an intense look inside the world of Guatemala's volunteer bomberos, a group of men who on a daily basis save lives, race along treacherous roads where motorists are slow to pull over, and witness the results of cold-blooded executions on the city streets, all in a country with a government corrupted by organized crime, and all for little or no pay.

Scroll down for downloadable versions of this video.

Approximately 5 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Field Production by Ross Kenyon and Zachary Caceres. Music by Chris Zabriskie (http://chriszabriskie.com).

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  • GILMORE||

    If only we could finally Win the Drug War, we could send all these Central American refugees back to their 'improved, drug-free countries!'. And keep them there!

  • Homple||

    We keep blaming the drug war for everything the narco cartels do. But, to be fair, some of the blame for the violence might, just might, lie with the people who actually, you know, commit the violence.

    Yes the drug war is stupid but the drug cartels operate by their own free will. There are no mind control rays from the DEA that turn otherwise peaceful lime growers or whatever into murderous thugs.

  • Irish||

    Plus, Central American countries were not exactly peaceful lands of plenty prior to the drug war.

    I think the drug war certainly makes things worse, but Honduras would be in shitty shape regardless of American drug policy.

  • Homple||

    The drug war does make things worse because there's much more money in drug traffic than, for example, protection racket shakedowns of banana planters.

  • Agammamon||

    Hmm, seems like you found the mind control rays the DEA sends out.

    Of course, its *perfectly reasonable* to dangle a fuck-load of money and slap on a danger premium and *still* expect people to be moral enough to simply not succumb to the temptation.

    Just Say No.

  • Homple||

    If,you decide not to be a murderous thug, you just say "No, I won't be a murderous thug." What else do you say?

  • CatoTheElder||

    Indeed! The DEA has no mind control rays that influence the behaviour of otherwise peaceful folks. Their influence is limited to creating huge monetary incentives to engage in murderous behavior.

  • Fluffy||

    I was going to make a long post but I bagged that to say:

    HA HA MEXICO

  • ||

    They blew it. It was a stupid penalty to give away. Sneijder's goal was a cracker.

  • Ted S.||

    Gotta love Robben's diving.

    (I'm a Bayern München fan, and I root against Mexico, but don't like Robben at all.)

  • Rhywun||

    He is shameless, isn't he. Not going to win an Oscar with that belly-flop, though.

  • antisocial-ist||

    I'm sure everyone has seen the stories lately of all of the unaccompanied children from Central America coming to the US. I understand many are fleeing the drug war and gangs mentioned in this article. What I don't understand is why their parents aren't coming with them. I'm pretty sure that drug gang bullets are just as lethal to adults as they are children, and that most parents would be with their children if given the choice. Nobody in the media seems to be talking about why these kids are by themselves, and the whole thing seems very strange.

  • Homple||

    It would be interesting to see some in-depth investigative news reporting about this whole phenomenon. I suspect the details might reflect badly on the objects of media veneration, so we get our daily ration of Kardashians instead.

  • Rich||

    Seriously. Start by asking the *little* kids WTF?

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    Start by asking the *little* kids WTF?

    Really no different than being a parent then, really.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    I would also really like an edit button.

  • Ted S.||

    Why do you hate the children!

  • ||

    You know there's a character limit, right?

  • Agammamon||

    Because, if you can only scrape together enough money for part of your family to escape, you send the kids to safety and tough it out until you get a chance yourself.

  • Dances-with-Trolls||

    Sounds reasonable, but I still prefer to think of it as the first wave of a modern Children's Crusade.

  • CatoTheElder||

    "What I don't understand is why their parents aren't coming with them."

    Because Central American parents expect passage of the DREAM Act, which is not an irrational expection. Kids just have to get to US and behave, and they get permanent residency.

    Obama says he will deport, but that raise huge logistical and humanitarian problems.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Because Central American parents expect passage of the DREAM Act

    I think you might be overestimating the knowledge of American politics within the quasi-illiterate 3rd World Latin American peasant community.

    Jus' sayin'

  • Homple||

    Odd that you think that there's no way that perceived good news and rumors can't travel fast and wide in the age of the mobile phone.

  • Flemur||

    "A Ride-Along With Guatemala's Volunteer Ambulance Drivers on the Front Lines of America's Guatemala's Drug War"

    Unless by "America" you meant the continents.

    Asia did not feature in the UNODC's 10 highest homicide rates.

    Neither did North America or Europe, which is completely inexplicable.

  • Virginian||

    Neither did North America or Europe, which is completely inexplicable.

    Would you care to advance a theory to explain it?

  • ||

    How to Stay Liberal After You Get Robbed

    Is this a parody? It has to be a parody. Oh god, it's delicious.

    A gun, I thought, maybe I should get a gun. I could get a shotgun, and not even purchase ammo, but just make that cocking noise. This is a bad plan, and totally impotent when it comes to preventing daytime break-ins. NRA stickers. Yes! I’ll put those AND a fake security sticker in the window.

    “No,” the boyfriend says. “No, we’re not putting NRA stickers in the window. Those people are crazy and don’t care when 20 first graders get killed. We’re not supporting them.”

    “But,” I argue, “but we could just get the stickers off eBay!”

    “No,” he says, and adds, “I’ll bet if we got a KKK sticker that might deter people too, and we’re not doing that, either.”
  • ||

    They should make more money and put out a moat filled with sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.

    Or at least mutated, ill-tempered sea bass.

  • ||

    I had theories—so many theories!—which I explained, in depth, to the responding officer and later the forensic examiner who gamely dusted for fingerprints.

    I'm calling bullshit. There's just no fucking way the cops sent a forensics team over to dust for fingerprints. No. Fucking. Way.

  • antisocial-ist||

    I can no longer tell the difference between prog parody and the true believers.

  • Rev-Match||

    I could get a shotgun, and not even purchase ammo, but just make that cocking noise...I’ll put those AND a fake security sticker in the window.

    Sure, there's absolutely no reason to be able to adequately justify that clicking noise. Real security is for schmucks.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Because my disproportionate reaction is precisely why the law needs to be impartial. It is so easy to lose perspective when the fear, or the problem, or the injury is ours. It’s hard to be reasonable when you are afraid.

    No, you just have the emotional maturity of a 5 year old, who still wets the bed.

    Kelly Williams Brown is an award-winning reporter, columnist and author of Adulting: How to Become A Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

    OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE!

  • Virginian||

    This is a parody. It has to be. I will not listen to anyone who says it's real.

  • Dweebston||

    At some point on Tuesday, someone entered my home via an unlocked window, exiting a few minutes later through the front door with my laptop, four 1970s issues of Rolling Stone, assorted jewelry, and many other inexplicable items, including but not limited to a bottle of perfume and a copy of my book in Dutch.

    If you'd owned a gun your gun would now be the property of the gentleman who entered your home via the window you failed to latch. Which is, by itself, your best argument against you, personally, owning a gun.

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